A recent article in Aljazeera News comments on opposition to the conversion of an empty church to a mosque, for Muslims living near Chicago.
The title describes “controversy” over the plan, and opposition in the community. The comments from readers are predictable, with hateful troll messages. “Religions in general are the work of Satan.”, “your name shouts like you need to take a bath”, and “Hope you get good sleep after spitting so much poison” are some comments I can print here.
The article is long, but reading past the title shows one important thing, there is no controversy. It is true that a Muslim group wants to use an abandoned church building as a mosque, but there is no report of effective opposition from anyone.
Apparently some anonymous flyers have been left in nearby mailboxes stating concerns about property values and traffic congestion. There is no mention of religious statements in the flyers. I guess this represents someone in the community with a computer and a printer.
The authorities have given approval and a local group representing many faiths, including Jews and Christians, supports the plan. This “controversy” has not been reported by other news organizations, to my knowledge.
Opposition to the mosque seems to be a moderate exercise in free speech, in a country where freedom of speech is in the constitution.
Where I live, city administration refused to permit a new Salvation Army church. Community opposition focused on issues like parking, and the local news barely mentioned the story. Words like controversy didn’t come up.
So how did the Chicago story become a major news item around the world? In this case, the news is the news. The original story is not worth mentioning but the article stirs up controversy.
I have some theories about the article.
An anti-American agenda:
Opposition to mosque construction happens in many parts of the world, and sometimes the issues are controversial. The article presents rumours about intolerance to Muslims near Chicago, in the United States; instead of examining a real issue somewhere else.
An anti Christian agenda:
Who would oppose conversion of a church to a mosque, except Christians? Reading past the title shows that Christians are not being intolerant, in this case.
Projection of cultural values:
Most Muslim majority regions put severe restrictions on places of worship that are not Muslim. Countries like Saudi Arabia forbid them all, and others like Egypt put severe restrictions on new buildings, even though millions of locals identify as Christian. Besides Christians, millions of Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others work in the Middle East, with severe restrictions on worship. Possibly a Middle Eastern Muslim journalist expects the same restrictions on Muslims, where other traditions dominate.
Justification by persecution:
Most ideologies and religions have stories about how they suffered to defend their truth. There are many martyr stories in Christian history for example.
Martyrdom and persecution is mostly lacking in the history of Islam, which expanded with powerful armies. It is difficult to imagine persecution of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. One comment to the article is “To all our Muslim Brothers and sisters please pray for sick soul devil want to destroy them we all know just sake of hatred they hate us Allah is truly merciful give them and us guidance.”
The clash of cultures:
We are living in a time when an obscure story from Chicago travels around the world, and then comes to you through my writing. This can all happen in days, or hours, and it creates vast opportunities for the collision of values and cultures. Anyone anywhere can project their ideas to other people. This has never happened before in the history of the world. We are living in interesting times.
The absence of truth:
This is not a criticism of Muslims, I am talking about all of us. Persuasion is now more important than stating the truth. Words are good if people believe them, and we speak to get results. Listen to any politician.
In history Christians lived under powerful people who persuaded with force. That is reflected in Bible passages that tell Christians to look up and trust God. This world is not a source of truth and goodness. When I read the news these days, I really appreciate the “news” given to Christians:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father; to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.” So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1: 5 to 8)